The Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico separates two great bodies of water - the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. It has been rapidly developed for tourism in recent years, with the once-tiny fishing port of Cancun now a thriving boom town and the Mayan Riviera on the east coast a major resort destination for those seeking sun-sea-and-sand holidays. For those more interested in the ancestral heartland of the ancient Mayan civilization, the 300-km (185-mi) journey from Villahermosa in the adjacent state of Tabasco to Mérida, Yucatán's 'White City', will be fascinating.
Until recently, Yucatán was isolated, looking more to its Mayan roots and out to the Caribbean than inwards to Mexico, so it has a unique atmosphere and culture. You will appreciate this as you drive, perhaps diverting to explore this special land of jungle, thorny scrub, hills, Mayan ruins, haciendas, colonial cities, wildlife preserves and pristine beaches...not to mention engaging with the most welcoming of people. From Villahermosa, head north on Highway 180 through Frontera, where you reach the Gulf. Keep going, enjoying stunning coastal scenery all the way (especially the amazing bridge crossing of the Laguna De Terminos through Zacatal, Ciudad del Carmen and Puerto Real) before continuing to Chapoton and Campeche.
From there, stay with 180 as the road cuts inland and heads for Merida, via Chencayi, Tenabo and Calkini. Merida is worth waiting for. Founded by conquistadors on the site of a Mayan city, it is the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas, and displays much of the traditional splendour and charm of colonial Mexico. A word of warning. Don't assume upon arrival that you can park anywhere. It may look that way, but police can, and sometimes do, impound illegally parked vehicles - a nightmare, especially if yours is a rental.
WHEN TO GO
December to May (avoiding hurricane season).
TIME IT TAKES
The iourney can be done in a day, but far better to take a couple and see the sights.
A stopover in Ciudad del Carmen, the 'Pearl of the Gulf' - try the seafood for which the town is renowned.
Merida's central Plaza, with America's oldest Cathedral (1556-1599), Palacio Municipal (1735) and Casa de Montejo (1542), former home of the founding conquistador.
An outing to the evocative Mayan ruins at Chichen-Itza and the nearby Caves of Balankanche.
Progresso - Merida's busy port, 30 km (18 mi) to the north, for amazing salt flats and extraordinary flocks of flamingoes.